Anne Sofie von Otter / Antoine Tamestit / Marc Minkowski

Berlioz: Les Nuits d'été; Harold en Italie

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Hector Berlioz's music frequently has a grandeur that's in the tradition of grand opera, symphony, or the work of virtuoso composer/performers such as Paganini. While this album has moments of capturing Berlioz's grandeur, it does not quite achieve the drama and emotion so necessary for the composer's music. Part of this difficulty may stem from the fact that the talented Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble conducted by Marc Minkowski is used to performing music on a smaller scale and is renowned for Baroque music on period instruments, as well as Mozart. For example, the beginning of Harold in Italy is barely audible, the sound is somewhat flat and lacking in energy, though finally it crescendos. The recording quality does not have much reverb, and this contributes to the flatness. The string solos are beautiful, particularly those of violist Antoine Tamestit, and the orchestra does begin to pick up and play with more liveliness as the first movement progresses. Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble has excellent rhythm and timing, and the viola is quite sprightly; the ending is truly rousing and very characteristically Berlioz. The orchestra handles the complex music of the second movement well, and there are some nice passages with string crossings that are handled adeptly. But once again, there is a sense of the performance being under-energized. The final movement shows the orchestra playing with perfect synchronicity and expression, with lots of small climaxes worked into the music with a bravado ending. Les Nuits d'été is a set of songs performed by the very talented mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. The repertoire does not seem to be ideal for her, as those who have heard her well-acted, passionate opera performances would attest. Her voice is clean, smooth, and bright, with not too much vibrato in songs such as "Villanelle" and "Le Spectre de la rose" with its beautiful, airy orchestral introduction. Those familiar with her singing will wonder, when von Otter is capable of such emotion, why she does not use it here on pieces like "Sur les lagunes," where she sounds almost too careful, and not willing to risk huge dynamic contrasts. The lack of energy affects her diction, which could be sharpened. In the final song, though, "L'Île inconnue," von Otter and the orchestra come alive, and one can hear what the artists are capable of. The song "Le Roi de Thulé" concludes the album, and it is nice to hear the intertwining of the voice and the strings even if this piece, too, lacks energy.

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